The summer music festival scene is heating up, and if rock concerts make you think of cheap beer or whiskey in plastic cups, you’re not alone. But if California wine retailer Peter Eastlake has his way, you’ll be pulling corks on some top cuvées instead. For the past four years, Eastlake, 39, the owner of a trio of wine stores in the Bay Area, has curated the wine tent at the massively popular Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco. Now, he’s bringing the show on the road to the Great GoogaMooga, a combo wine, food and music festival organized by the creators of Outside Lands and Bonaroo that will be held in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on May 19 and 20. The wine side of the festival line-up includes top sommeliers like Aldo Sohm and Paul Grieco and winemakers from Bonny Doon and the Gotham Project, while the music portion includes headliners (and wine lovers) Hall & Oates and the Roots.
Eastlake, who grew up in Philadelphia and credits his wine importer neighbor for getting him into wine, recently spoke with Wine Spectator about how he made the leap from retail to festivals, why wine is ready for the big stage and which bottlings are best with music.
Wine Spectator: How did you get into wine?
Peter Eastlake: I grew up in Philadelphia, and my neighbor was a French wine importer. I was 20 and helping him with his Burgundies. I spent a year living in South Africa when I was in college and that was a fascinating immersive period [with South African wine]. Then when I graduated, I went straight to New York and worked at Morrell’s and then I managed the original Best Cellars on the Upper East Side. After 9/11, I moved to California and was the national buyer at Cost Plus World Market, based in Oakland. Together with my best friend, I opened Vintage Berkeley in North Berkeley in an old water-pumping station.
WS: What are some standout wines from your career?
PE: There was a blizzard in 1993 that shut down all the northeastern cities. I had done a tasting of our Burgundies in Wilmington so I had A.F. Gros Echézeaux and Richebourg—all this stuff open. I went back to my apartment in downtown Philadelphia and was completely snowed in and ended up drinking all of these Burgundies over the next four days. At the age of 22 years old—drinking Richebourg, Echézeaux at any hour because there was nothing else to do—I had a lot of time to think about the glory of the stuff I was drinking.
WS: What brought you to South Africa?
PE: After I had been selling wine in Philadelphia, I lived in Stellenbosch and Cape Town for a year in 1995. I went to the Cape Wine Academy, which was part of the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery at the time. I took a bunch of different classes there and got familiar with all the wineries there. It was cool because at that point this exciting up-and-coming region had been shut off from the rest of the world—or our world really. All of this newness despite the 400-year lineage of Cape wine. It was formative because I really got the culture of wine and the seasons.
WS: Do you have any personal wine favorites right now?
PE: I love big bottles. Maybe it’s because I’m a short guy? I don’t know … I’m an explorer. I love newness and interesting takes on things. Big bottles are always fun. Whether it’s a big bottle of rosé or a big bottle of Burgundy, I love to put a magnum down on the table and get into it with your closest.
WS: How did you get involved in curating wine for concerts?
PE: When Outside Lands came up, it was exciting because it was a chance to put wine in this live space in front of a huge amount of people. We had 60,000 people last year. I had been close with the guys from SuperFly. When Outside Lands was a year out, one of them said, “I wonder if there’s a role that wine might play?” And I said, “Absolutely, finally! An opportunity to take wine out of the box.” We’re creating a new platform where all of these pleasure points in our life—eating drinking, music—there’s a confluence of them all at this festival.
WS: Do you like music?
PE: Live music, yeah. I’ve always loved live music. I grew up in Philly so we’d go see the Who, the Rolling Stones, U2. The power of that huge collective experience has always had a big impact on me.
WS: It’s pretty rare to get good wine at a concert.
PE: It’s been a beer and whiskey thing. The aesthetic of rock-and-roll doesn’t fit wine. Programming wine in a music space, I constantly think: What is the connectivity between wine and music? We like to listen to music and drink wine, and to me that’s the most primal. There’s the artisan who makes a wine, who kind of resembles the mind of a musician. It’s an interesting thing. Wine and music work well together as a shared sensory experience, but I don’t see it as this winemaker is the new rock star. I think there are winemakers and sommeliers who embody the rock-and-roll aesthetic, but there are wines out there who have shy, quiet people behind them who create some of the most amazing, electric things you’ve ever tasted. So there are a lot of ways of thinking about it.
WS: Are there lots of musicians who like wine?
PE: These young indie bands, they bust their hump traveling around the globe, but more often than not these days, they eat pretty well and take care of themselves. They love wine and jump at it when they see it. At Outside Lands, they’ll bring the musicians over to the tent. Nathan from the Kings of Leon. Colin Meloy from the Decemberists—he’s a big fan of wine. And then a guy like Les Claypool who makes wine. There are a lot of wine-loving musicians.